If you have sore arms because your dog lunges, jumps, tries to run away or freezes while on a walk, then you are dealing with a leash reactive dog. Leash reactivity is one of the most common behavioral issues that pet owners face in India. We completely understand how this time may be when you are most frustrated with your dog, or tense about what may happen next...but on the whole, it is quite an embarrassing episode. Many clients of ours have expressed their feelings to just stop walks altogether as they simply cannot find a way to walk their dogs in a calm, controllable manner and we generally tell them that this leash reactivity is something that can be fixed, if corrected consistently.
We also hear pet parents say their dog is “aggressive” as the dog is constantly lunging or reacting poorly to another dog or distraction. Is aggression however, really the issue? Probably not, although their leash behavior may seem intense, most leash reactive dogs aren’t aggressive. However it’s important to solve the root of this issue in order to successfully work with the pet.
Let’s see what the common drivers are when it comes to leash reactivity:
Over-socialisation or desperation to meet others - Generally dogs that have had a case of excessive interactions with other dogs (especially while on the leash) and an inherent tendency to be overly friendly can cause this. So for these kinds of dogs, working on their socialisation with even tempered dogs and calm, confident humans is vital. Also, talk to an experienced trainer on how to train your dog to do alternative things rather than fixating on the other person/dog.
Nervousness, insecurity & under socialisation: This can also be commonly mistaken for aggression wherein the insecure dog will warn, try to scare the other dog away from approaching it. These dogs generally also have a tendency to be nervous even while off leash. Such dogs need to be worked on in order to remove the underlying cause of the nervousness. We suggest confidence building activities like obedience training, socialisation, enrichment activities to help the dog.
True aggressors: these dogs are not barking out of nervousness nor is their lunging friendly. These dogs are barking, snarling & lunging primarily to attack. Such dogs will also have aggressive episodes in their home environments too, due to multiple causes. Similar to the nervous dogs, the underlying causes need to be determined and a suitable action plan put together to tackle this.
Let’s not be embarrassed about our dog’s behaviour! Important to tell ourselves that our dogs really do not know any better and it is upon us to make sure they learn the right behaviour on the leash.
For that, we need to stay calm and redirect the dog to do something else instead of reacting on the leash. Easier said than done, right? Well, remember that nobody can teach the dog the right behaviour unless there is consistency in training and learning how to manage the dog. We did not learn to ride a cycle in a day. It took deliberate practice and consistency for us to gain mastery over it.
Talking of redirections before the reactivity, it is best to get the dog to focus on you (before the distraction is spotted by the dog) or by letting the dog observe from a distance while you stand by calmly, or teaching the dog, pattern-walking or steer the dog in a different direction. Every dog is different and we need to work with our pooches to see what is the best way to manage their reactivity.
Socialization is generally the root cause of these reactions. If a dog is heavily under-socialized or over-socialized (they need to say hello to everybody as they have had several on-leash interactions) these misbehaviours are prone to occur. So work with a trainer on getting your dog to have positive interactions with new environments and surroundings.
Remember that working on leash reactivity can be done when we too are in a calm, confident mindset. By walking with a purpose and being a good leader that the dog wants, we can correct a lot of these behaviours. In a separate blog, we will also talk about our body language & pointers to avert altercations on managing stray dogs while walking our pets.
At Anvis, our focus is to create happy dogs and stress-free walks. If you need help, do send us a note and we will be happy to help.